Have you ever seen or not seen a play based upon a review? Do you find yourself agreeing with our reviews or disagreeing? This also brings the question of why do plays get reviewed in the first place? At MD Theatre Guide, our mission is to provide reviews and articles that are fair and honest, thorough, and family friendly. Sounds rather straight-forward, right? But let’s dig deeper into the MD Theatre Guide’s theatre review philosophy.
Purpose of a Review
“I regard the theatre as the greatest of all art forms, the most immediate way in which a human being can share with another the sense of what it is to be a human being.” -Oscar Wilde
The purpose of a review is for the writer to report on what he or she saw and heard at the show. Basically, a reviewer lets the reader know what to expect if they were to attend the show. Based upon the writers experience at the performance, the reviewer forms an opinion on how the show, including the story, music, actors, sets, etc. made them feel. They ask themselves “What did I like? What did I not like?” A review which states an improvement that could be made in the production is not necessarily a bad show. Nothing is perfect. After all, without the bad there is no good. For example, if there is no conflict in a play, then the play could potentially be very boring.
Reviews can also be helpful in improving the quality of theatre. A review that gives constructive criticism, for example, that “the sound mix had the music up louder than the vocals” is a criticism that the theatre might take to heart and improve the mix for the next performance. A reviewer is kind of a consultant of sorts outside of the theatre company to give an honest evaluation of what he or she feels the theatre is doing right and what the theatre could improve upon.
Expectations for Community Theatre vs. Professional Theatre
When reviewing a production it is important to have reasonable expectations for the theatre company. Before a reviewer attends the show they should know whether theatre company is considered a community theatre or professional theatre. The MDTG “Theatre Guide” section tells you this information.
Most people in community theatre do it for the love of live theatre and to be involved socially in their community. Budgets and resources are potentially smaller in community theatre. The actors, for example, are volunteers and so it is best to point out the good performances and be more forgiving of performers who are by definition, “amateur.” Keep in mind that actors are people too and it can be devastating to read hurtful things about them, especially when they are donating their time by volunteering to support the arts. This is not to say that the reviews aren’t an honest evaluation, it just means that the bar is not set as high as a professional production. Would you expect a Broadway quality set in a community theatre production? Probably not, but I have certainly seen excellent sets in community theatre.
Professional theatre, on the other hand, expectations should naturally be higher. They are getting paid for their art and higher ticket prices often reflect that. This is not to say that the reviewer should write down every single thing that he or she liked and didn’t like. It should be a general review, not a long critique or college thesis. It is also important to keep in mind that even among professional theatres, there can be a big gap in budget. Some professional theatres have a million dollar budget, while others are significantly less. I have always been a firm believer that money can’t buy creativity, so a theatre with less of a budget does not necessarily mean less quality.
A review should always be respectful, never mean-spirited. Reviews should always be sensitive to people of all genders, ages, ethnic backgrounds, sexuality, etc. It is not uncommon for a reviewer to be involved in the theatre community as an actor, director, etc. If the writer has been involved with that theatre company in which they are reviewing, it is good practice to offer a disclaimer at the bottom of the review. If the writer worked at the theatre and had a negative experience, it is best that he or she does not review that theatre unless they honestly feel they can be non-bias. Theatre reviewers should also not write a positive review for the purpose of personal gain, such as trying to land a job at the theatre or to make their friends in the show look good.
In the musical Gypsy I am reminded of the song “You Gotta Have A Gimmick.” That may work for some publications, but here at MD Theatre Guide we want our readers to actually READ the entire review, not just look to see if the show has “five stars” or has “two thumbs up.” Gimmicks such as star ratings or thumbs up and down are out-of-fashion. These ratings are also not as helpful to the theatre or audience since these gimmick ratings are superficial and do not educate the reader very much. Not having a rating system also allows for the reviewer to be more honest in the review. The reviewer is able to concentrate more on evaluating the show, rather than thinking how many stars they should give.
People of all ages enjoy theatre. These days, everyone has access to a computer. The MD Theatre Guide is considerate of our diverse readership by making our publication suitable for the entire family. Theatre is as diverse as our community and our publication strives to inform our readers whether or not the show is suitable for them. To help in forming a decision, MD Theatre Guide displays an advisory at the bottom of the review when applicable.
“All the best performers bring to their role something more, something different than what the author put on paper. That’s what makes theatre live. That’s why it persists.” –Stephen Sondheim
At the end of the day, a review is just the opinion of one person. The MD Theatre Guide encourages you to attend a show and come up with your own thoughts on how the show made you feel. Better yet, don’t judge; just accept the play for what it is and enjoy watching the show with your family and friends.